On the first anniversary of Islamic State conquering the Iraqi city of Mosul, locals report that ISIS rule has been unimaginably brutal – yet preferable to some over the Iraqi government.
One escaped Mosul resident, named Seba, told the BBC that when the group arrived in June 2014, “we didn’t know… whether they were better than the government.” Another, a young man named Basheer Aziz who stayed behind in the city, told The Guardian that “with all its brutality,” ISIS “is more honest and merciful” than the government in Baghdad.
Two interviewees recount having their hands chopped off for petty crimes: one for stealing a piece of jewelry from a store, and another for possessing cigarettes. And even those who describe themselves as ISIS supporters — Aziz calls it “the dream and utmost desire of any Muslim” — express anger with its mistreatment of Christians and other religious minorities. (RELATED: Here’s How ISIS Justifies Its Oppression Of Christians)
“I’m still in touch with our Christian neighbors and wish they would come back shortly,” he says. And a neurologist named Firas Ghalib told The Guardian that his poorer Christian neighbors converted to Islam, since they were too poor to either pay the group’s tax on non-Muslims or flee to the safe haven of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Dr. Ghalib also recalled how Islamic State fighters tried to maintain regular service in Mosul’s hospitals throughout their takeover. But by insisting that male personnel could not treat female patients, and vice versa, they soon ran into unexpected staffing shortages. After his hospital’s only female anesthesiologist quit her job, two women died in childbirth in a single night because they required caesarean sections.
When Islamic State entered Mosul, its Sunni citizens had spent years struggling against rule by the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad. That mistrust was the consequence of years’ worth of harassment by Shiite authorities, which itself resulted from Saddam Hussein’s oppressive policies against the country’s Shiite majority prior to 2003.
The group attempts to gain local confidence by comparing itself with incompetent or unjust local government in both Iraq and Syria. It recently released video of a now-empty Syrian prison used by President Bashar Assad to torture political undesirables, reminding its target audience of their grievances against the Syrian regime.
ISIS has worked hard to improve conditions for favored residents in its territory, who are effectively hostages in their own hometowns. The Wall Street Journal reports “streets unusually clear of cigarette butts,” and other projects deliberately targeted at winning public support. (RELATED: Al-Qaida Competes With ISIS By Subsidizing Local Police)
It has also funded its continued expansion through a combination of crime and efficient taxation. Its recent conquest of Palmyra, a rare historic site in Syria, brought renewed attention to the group’s exploitation of the black market for ancient artifacts. But the group may have sharpened its approach: Aziz claims in The Guardian that among its pseudo-governmental “ministries,” ISIS in Mosul plans to add a new archaeology department.
Back in November, Iraqi leaders announced plans to take back the city in early 2015. But as Islamic State continues to gain ground in Iraq, the U.S. and Iraqi governments continue delaying their plans to liberate Mosul. The New York Times reported Wednesday, amid news that 400 additional U.S. troops will be sent to Iraq, that Mosul is now scheduled for reconquest “at a later stage, possibly not until 2016.”
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